Monday, May 21, 2018

The Casino Murder Case (1934)

Major characters:

  • Philo Vance, the dilettante detective
  • John F. X. Markham, District Attorney
  • Ernest Heath, sergent, Homicide squad
  • Mrs. Anthony Llewellyn - prominent social worker
  • Richard Kincaid - her brother, and owner of the Casino
  • Amelia Llewellyn - her daughter, an art student
  • Lynn Llewellyn - her son, a night club lizard and gambler
  • Virginia Llewellyn - Lynn Llewellyn's wife, formerly Virginia Vale, stage star
  • Smith, the Llewellyn butler
  • Morgan Bloodgood - croupier at Kincaid's Casino
  • Dr. Allan Kane, friend of the Llewellyns
  • Dr. Rogers

Locale: New York City

Synopsis: Philo Vance receives an anonymous letter indicating some harm is to come to members of the Llewellyn family and they should be watched, especially on a certain date. Vance contacts D.A. John F. X. Markham. Vance then visits Kincaid's Casino on the indicated date, to keep an eye on Lynn Llewellyn. While gambling, Lynn collapses and a doctor immediately recognizes it as poison. No sooner is he hospitalized when word comes that his wife, Amelia Llewellyn, has died at home from poisoning.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Kennel Murder Case (1933)

Major characters:

  • Philo Vance, the dilettante detective
  • John F. X. Markham, District Attorney
  • Ernest Heath, sergent, Homicide squad
  • Archer Coe, collector of Chinese ceramics
  • Brisbane Coe, his brother
  • Raymond Wrede, friend of the Coes
  • Hilda Lake, niece of Archer Coe, engaged to Raymond Wrede
  • Signor Eduardo Grassi, officer in the Milan Museum of Oriental Antiquities
  • Liang Tsung Wei, the Coe cook
  • Gamble, the Coe butler
  • Luke Enright, an importer
  • Major Julius Higginbottom, dog breeder
  • Miss MacTavish, a Scottie dog
  • Doris Delafield, owner of Miss MacTavish

  • Locale: New York City

    Synopsis: District Attorney John F. X. Markham is summoned to the scene of a murder, and as usual, invites his more perceptive friend Philo Vance along. At the residence of Archer Coe, they find he is apparently dead in a locked room - they can see him sprawled through the keyhole. They break in to find he has been shot. The medical examiner arrives, and finds Coe was dead long before he was shot, adding another mystery. 

    During the investigation an injured Scottie dog is discovered in the house, and no one recognizes it, or knows how it got in. There is also evidence a valuable Chinese vase has been broken, and an inferior piece substituted in its place. A search is started for Coe's brother, Brisbane Coe, who was in the house when all this happened. Eventually he is found - dead - in a closet in the home. 

    The Scottie dog seems to be the key. If they can trace the dog and find its owner, some light can be shed on the murders.


    Despite the title, the book does not have any connection to a kennel, other than a brief visit to one late in the book. This is a locked-room mystery with a pile of loose ends: a victim who was dead before he was shot, a brother also murdered, a mystery dog injured, a broken vase, a missing weapon. 

    While delving into the worlds of ancient Chinese ceramics as well as dog breeding, the reader need not be knowledgable of either to enjoy the book. These side topics are minor. The big mystery is why and how is a dead man shot inside a locked room. The rundown of clues is standard police procedure and leads to the solution. 

    The book includes the usual S. S. Van Dine lectures and footnotes on obscure topics which may be skipped over. Was he being paid by the word?

    Thursday, May 3, 2018

    The Dragon Murder Case (1933)

    Major characters:

    • Philo Vance, the dilettante detective
    • John F. X. Markham, District Attorney
    • Ernest Heath, sergent, Homicide squad
    • Sanford "Monty" Montague, engaged to Bernice Stamm
    • Rudolf Stamm, hard-drinking fish collector, and owner of the Stamm estate
    • Matilda Stamm, his mother, who seems to predict the future with 100% accuracy
    • Bernice Stamm, his daughter
    • Gale Leland, neighbor and friend of the family
    • Alex Greeff, stockbroker and guest of the Stamms
    • Kirwin Tatum, guest of the Stamms
    • Teeny McAdam, guest of the Stamms
    • Ellen Bruett, writer of love letter to Sanford Montague
    • Ruby Steele, actress
    • Trainor, the Stamm butler
    • Mrs. Schwarz, nurse-companion to Mrs. Stamm
    • Doctor Holliday, Stamm family physician

    Locale: Inwood (northern Manhattan), New York City

    Synopsis: This is a locked-room mystery, but the room is a pool! Sanford Montague dives into the "Dragon Pool" (a small pond) on his property and never comes up. Where did he go? Is he dead or alive? He is thought to have run off with Ellen Bruett, who wrote a note arranging a meeting that night. When he does not reappear, the pool is drained, and his body is not in it. However, there are strange foot and claw marks on the hard bottom of the pool.

    Matilda Stamm, elderly mother of hard-drinking Rudolf Stamm, is convinced there is a dragon that lives in the pool, and protects the Stamm family by killing its enemies. This is supported by the fact there have been two deaths in the pool already. She states the dragon then flies away with its victims to dispose of their bodies elsewhere.

    Nearby are several deep glacial pot-holes. The body of Montague is found in one, mutilated by claws, and apparently dropped from a height. Some time later, Alex Greeff goes missing. His body is likewise found in the same place, again mutilated and dropped.

    Philo Vance rounds up the key to a family vault located near the pool, and enters it to find that it is connected with the deaths.


    This is my favorite Philo Vance novel. The murders are so unique and outlandish, and all evidence points to the legendary dragon being the culprit. Philo Vance seeks out the truth by eliminating all other possibilities. The novel stays on topic for the most part, except for a several page diversion as Vance displays his knowledge of various tropical fish.

    Thursday, April 19, 2018

    The Scarab Murder Case (1930)

    Major characters:

    • Philo Vance, dilettante detective
    • John F. X. Markham, district attorney
    • Dr. Mindrum W. C. Bliss, head of the Bliss Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
    • Meryt-Amen Bliss, his wife
    • Benjamin H. Kyle, philanthropist and art patron; dead as story begins
    • Robert Salveter, assistant curator of the museum, nephew of Benjamin Kyle
    • Donald Scarlett, technician for the Bliss expeditions
    • Anapu Hani, family retainer of the Blisses, a mysterious Egyptian 
    • Brush, butler for the Blisses
    • Dingle, cook for the Blisses

    Locale: New York City

    Synopsis: Benjamin Kyle, wealthy art patron, is discovered dead in the Bliss museum, having been struck in the head by a heavy statue. Immediate evidence points at Dr. Bliss as the murderer: a scarab stickpin belonging to Dr. Bliss is found with the body. 

    Kyle had been financing the Bliss expeditions to Egypt. His will leaves his fortune equally to his nephew, Robert Salveter, and Meryt-Amen; much younger wife of Dr. Bliss. Salveter and Meryt-Amen enjoy writing each other little notes in hieroglyphics which no one else can read, leading to an assumption of intimacy. Anapu Hani is also closely attached to Meryt-Amen.

    It turns out Dr. Bliss was drugged at the time of the murder, by addition of opium into his coffee.


    This is a tight mystery, with the action confined to just these few characters. It is enjoyable as suspicion passes around from one to another. There are several instances of things-not-as-they appear which are all clearly explained at the end. A lot of Egypt-ese, but that does not detract from it. As Philo Vance novels go, he sticks to relevant investigation and does not wander off for pages at a time displaying his erudite knowledge.

    Sunday, April 8, 2018

    The Bishop Murder Case (1929)

    Major characters:

    • Philo Vance, dilettante detective
    • John F. X. Markham, district attorney
    • Professor Bertrand Dillard, physicist
    • Belle Dillard, his niece
    • Sigurd Arnesson. his adopted son, professor of mathematics
    • Adolph Drukker, scientist, author, and hunchback
    • Mrs. Otto Drukker, his mother
    • John Pardee, mathematician and chess expert
    • J. C. Robin, archer
    • Raymond Sperling, civil engineer
    • John E. Sprigg, college student
    • Madeleine Moffat, a little girl

    Locale: New York City

    Synopsis: Philo Vance and D. A. Markham are called out to a report of murder on a long narrow archery range, sandwiched between the Dillard home and the Drukker home. The deceased is J. Cochrane "Cock" Robin, and immediate suspicion falls on Raymond Sperling who was present. It is noted that "Sperling" means "sparrow", and the murder follows the nursery rhyme of "Who killed Cock Robin?"

    The Dillard house and the Drukker house back up to one another. Professor Dillard lives with his daughter Belle (here is a love triangle, both Sigurd Arnesson and John Pardee enamored of her). Adolph Drukker is a strange sort who spends his days playing with the neighborhood kids, and lives with his mother who may have seen the murder.

    Other murders follow, with nursery rhyme tie-ins. After each, a note is sent to the newspapers signed "The Bishop".


    The book is heavy with higher mathematics and chess references. still understandable even if you are neither a mathematician nor a chess player. As usual, plenty of irrelevant footnotes. Still, a good mystery with some clever twists at the end.

    The description of the archery range plan in Chapter 2 cries out for the customary S. S. Van Dine crime scene map, but (in my edition at least) it does not appear until Chapter 18 (p. 241 in the spiderweb binding edition). So if you are just starting the book, check ahead to Chapter 18 for the crime scene map.

    Saturday, March 31, 2018

    The Greene Murder Case (1928)

    Major characters:

    • Philo Vance, dilettante detective
    • John F. X. Markham, district attorney
    • Mrs. Tobias Greene, matriarch
    • Julia Greene, eldest daughter
    • Stella Greene, daughter
    • Ada Greene, youngest daughter
    • Chester Greene, eldest son
    • Rex Greene, younger son
    • Sproot, Greene family butler
    • Gertrude Mannheim, cook
    • Dr. Arthur Von Blon, family doctor

    Locale: New York City


    It seems an intruder to the Greene home has shot and killed Julia Greene, and wounded her sister Ada Greene. Their brother, Chester Greene, asks District Attorney John F. X. Markham to investigate personally, as he feels the routine police inquiry is inadequate. Markham invites Philo Vance to come along. The intruder entered and left the home without leaving a trace other than footprints in the snow outside. The question is why the intruder - if bent on burglary - even bothered to go upstairs where the family was sleeping, when the valuables were downstairs?

    As soon as the investigation begins, two more murders follow .. Chester Greene and Rex Greene. Now it seems someone is trying to wipe out the Greene family, one by one.


    This is a good diminishing-pool-of-potential-victims novel as the Greenes are eliminated one by one, with no apparent motive. As Van Dine novels go, not overly complex and Philo Vance stays relatively focused without wandering off into abstract monologues on irrelevant matters too often.

    Notable quotes:

    "This affair is too complicated to be untangled by the unravelling of details."

    "The person who sat in that library night after night and read strange books by candlelight is the key to everything."

    Philo Vance: "The intruder must have left the room."
    Sibella Greene: "I suppose he must have, if he's not there now."

    Wednesday, March 28, 2018

    How to search for blogs by topic!

    Finally, and totally by accident, I have found how to search for blogs of a given topic, and how to collate new posts from them onto one page for easy reading.

    It turns out that terms you add to your profile become LINKS, and you can click on them to search for bloggers using the same terms in the same boxes - whether it be interests, location, books, movies, industry, occupation. You are really searching for bloggers (not blogs about a given topic), but the result is essentially the same.

    To search for a blog about a topic:

    So just add your desired search term to your own profile as an INTEREST, then click on it. Or click on anyone else’s listed interest.

    To collate new posts from followed blogs:
    1. Follow blogs of interest.
    2. If the blog you like does not have a FOLLOW button, copy the blog's URL to your clipboard
    3. Go to Dashboard (from some pages, the link says DESIGN)
    4. Go to Reading List (in left column)
    5. At BLOGS I FOLLOW click the pencil,
    6. Click ADD
    7. Paste in the URL
    8. On your DASHBOARD (also called DESIGN on some pages), click READING LIST.
    9. There they are!